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Michelle Wie can learn from others experiences

Michelle Wie tries to soak up as much information as she can during her practice rounds on the PGA Tour, and there was plenty of opportunity to learn Tuesday morning at the Sony Open.

With her buddy Ernie Els missing, the 16-year-old played with two guys closer to her age.

One of them was 23-year-old Sean O'Hair who, like Wie, turned pro before he got out of high school. But that's where the similarities end. O'Hair's father treated him like a commodity and punished him for failing. Sponsor's exemption didn't exist in his world, and he didn't make his first PGA Tour appearance until he got his card.

The other was Justin Rose, 25, who went through some tough times of his own.

He turned pro at age 17, right after he pitched in for birdie on the last hole at Royal Birkdale to tie for fourth in the 1998 British Open. The next two years were a blur, as Rose missed the cut in his first 21 tournaments.

Wie is only 0-for-1 as a pro.

This will be her fourth crack trying to make the cut in a PGA Tour event, something no female has done since Babe Zaharias in 1945.

Rose doesn't doubt she is capable, but his advice for the 6-foot teen is to think big.

"When I began to miss a couple of cuts, my focus turned into making the cut, rather than going into a tournament playing it for what it is -- playing to win, really, which is what I'm sure she does in LPGA events," Rose said. "I know she's incredibly strong mentally. I'm sure she goes into a tournament believing she can do more than make the cut.

"But it's amazing how the cut creeps into your mind."

That will be all the talk when the Sony Open gets under way Thursday at windy Waialae, the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season with 143 men and a junior in high school who wears big earrings and navy blue fingernail polish.

"You limit yourself by thinking, 'Let's just make the cut.' She's plenty good enough to make the cut," Rose said. "Sometimes, making the cut might be a little too much in her mind. But I'm strictly guessing."

That's not far off.

Wie wanted to make the cut when she played as a 14-year-old amateur, and she almost did. She made putts from here to Waikiki Beach, fed off the electricity in the crowd and the sense of the moment, closed with a birdie and shot 68. It remains the lowest score by a female on a men's tour.

But it was one shot away from playing on the weekend.

The next year, the wind and her putting left her without much of a chance from the start, and she missed by seven. Then came the John Deere Classic, where Wie again dazzled spectators and television viewers and was poised to make the cut until a double-bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 17th. She missed by two.

She also missed the cut at the Casio World Open in Japan by one shot, courtesy of a bogey-bogey finish.

"I'm hoping it will be a lot better," she said of this year's trip down the street to Waialae, where she already has played five rounds in the last week. "Hopefully, I can make the cut."

Under the spotlight like no other player at the Sony Open, that will be how she is measured.

Then again, everyone has expectations of Wie.

Some criticize her as an underachiever for not winning anything since the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links at 13. Others wonder why she is wasting her time competing against the men when she still hasn't beaten the women.

"Right now, the PGA [Tour] is a yardstick to see where she's at," swing coach David Leadbetter said.

No one questions her ability, only when -- or whether -- she can fulfill her potential.

Rose knows the feeling.

He made his professional debut a week after Royal Birkdale at the Dutch Open, and the buzz was so strong that he found his name listed atop the leader board before he even teed off. He opened with a 76, followed with a 65 and missed the cut by one shot. He missed by one shot the next week.

It wasn't long before his focus shifted from the trophy to playing on the weekend.

"Then I started thinking, 'Gosh, I've got to make the cut.' And it snowballs from there," he said. "It was an uphill battle until I got to the point where I missed so many, I had to take a step back and find another route."

That's one reason that while others will look at Wie's score over two days at Waialae, Rose pays more attention to her birth certificate.

"When I was 17, I wanted a tour card desperately," he said. "But when I look back, all that matters is that you keep improving. Obviously, I was a good player. And that's what I would say to her. It's not the end of the world if you miss the cut, as long as you're learning and getting better."

Her overall record indicates an upward path.

She was making cuts on the LPGA Tour at age 13. A year later, she made an occasional journey into the top 10. And as a 15-year-old, she twice was runner-up in a major, and was tied for the lead going into the last round of the U.S. Women's Open until stumbling to an 82.

No telling what 2006 holds, her first full season as a pro.

Wie wore a belt with "68" on the buckle during the second round of the John Deere Classic. For the practice round Tuesday, her white belt had a phrase written in English and Korean.

"Practice and play hard," it said, "for health and happiness."

January 11, 2006


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